How’s Your Friend?


It’s a Tuesday. I’ve stopped at my grandparents for a quick visit. Anyone who’s met them knows they’re delightful people and not just in the way that all grandparents are. We catch up and have a few laughs before I say I have to head home to make dinner.

“You better get going. You don’t want to keep your friend waiting,” my grandmother says.

She knows the “friend” she’s referring to is my boyfriend. We live together and I’ve been out of the closet since college. She doesn’t mean anything negative by her word choice. My grandparents are completely accepting and are vocal about their feelings toward bigots. Still, there’s something that keeps them referring to my “friend” instead of just saying “boyfriend”.

I’m pretty sure every person who’s dated someone of the same gender has experienced this. Whether it be parents, grandparents or other (actually platonic) friends, chances are someone has referred to your significant other as your “friend”.

Why does this matter? It’s not like it’s some terrible crime against humanity to call my boyfriend my friend. After all, my boyfriend is my friend…most days. Generally, the speaker doesn’t intend to be rude or unfeeling. Some of them probably aren’t even conscious of the fact that they chose that particular word.

The problem is that it seems like a remnant of the past, when times were different. We’ve come a long way over the past fifty years. Gays and lesbians are coming out at younger ages and, in some instances, were never in the closet in the first place. There are gay characters on every major television network. Yet this practice of referring to a homosexual’s partner as their “friend” remains.

At best, it’s an annoying statement for homosexuals to shrug off. At worst, it demeans their entire relationship. I’ve never heard of any heterosexuals having to deal with this. My grandparents live next door to a straight friend of mine. She lives with her boyfriend and they’ve been together about as long as I’ve been with my boyfriend. Yet my grandparents always refer to him as her “boyfriend” while my partner continues to be my “friend”. Besides, heterosexuals don’t have a long history of having to refer to their significant other as their “friend” just to fit into society. It has a completely different connation when talking about homosexuals.


Is there something stopping my family from using the term boyfriend when it comes to me? Can they just not bring themselves to say it? I don’t think this is the case. As I’ve said, they’re very loving and would defend me if anyone insulted me for my sexuality. I honestly don’t think they’re even fully aware they’re doing it. I try to chalk it up to the generation they were born into, but, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before I snap and explain it to them… or maybe I should just start referring to my grandfather as my grandmother’s friend.

I know not every relationship is defined the way mine is. Maybe you’ve just started seeing someone or have a casual arrangement. Uncertainty of labels can definitely be a reason someone refers to your boyfriend/romantic prospect/fuck buddy, but it’s still the most offensive way to go about it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my mother may have the best practice when it comes to this. She doesn’t refer to people by their roles. Instead, she just uses first names. So if you’re not sure if Linda is your daughter’s girlfriend, friend with benefits, or platonic roommate, just call her Linda.

Believe me, after you’ve spent enough time trying to move out of the friend box and into the romantic box, the last thing you want is someone trying to shove you back in. You don’t know all the details that led to the current relationship, whether it’s romantic or otherwise. Just keep it simple and try not to trivialize another person’s relationship just because you’re not sure how to define it. And the next time my grandmother calls my boyfriend my friend, I think I’m just going to turn to her and say, “If he’s just my friend imagine all the dirty, depraved acts I’ll commit once I find a boyfriend!”


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